Feral

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See also: Threshold Fandom
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Definition

In the early 1990s, this term was applied to fans who came into media fandom independent of the traditional gatekeeper path documented by Camille Bacon-Smith in Enterprising Women.

The women's fanzine community draws its members from among the adult and late teen population, and it has developed an extensive mentor-apprentice system for training newcomers in the structures and customs of the community, including the codes and aesthetics of fan fiction, and a particular aesthetic of television viewing. [1]

In the 1960s and 1970s, people generally discovered media fandom independently. Fan letters to the show would get you directed to an official fan club, which often had contact information for pen pal lists, unofficial clubs and fanzines. One could simply contact and join these clubs, buy the zines or start writing to people without introduction. Fan activity was extremely diverse, as were ideas about fan fiction and relationships between characters. Many of the established standards and practices fans take for granted today did not exist, or only in rudimentary form.

By the early 1980s, newcomers had to "know somebody" in order to be accepted. This initiation process often took place at conventions, where one would be introduced to one or more experienced people. Rather like an apprenticeship in trade or a postulant in religious life, the newbie fan would be vetted for membership and taught what they would need to know about how to interact with the larger fan community.

Someone who was feral was someone who came into fandom without having to go through a gatekeeper. By the mid to late 1990s, more and more fans were "discovering" fandom on their own via the Internet. Some fans were very proud of their feral fan history, as it meant that they were independent and outside of the 'media fandom' box.

A Feral Fan was a term for someone who would stumble onto fandom the old fashioned way, or discover fanzines, perhaps at a used book store, scifi con or an ad at the back of a scifi magazine, and then get into fandom simply though directly purchasing zines, without having to know someone first.

A Feral Vidder was specifically related to people who read an intro on how to create fan videos in a zine, and who then went out and bought a vidding VCR and created their own works, without ever having anyone mentor them personally (as had been the custom back in the late 80s/early 90s). There were even people who independently hit on the idea of creating homemade music videos without knowing anything about the culture of "vidding" or that anyone else was doing it.

Feral fandom is the newest term, really only coming into its own post-internet, and the breakdown of the gatekeeper system. It is applied to any fandom around a form of popular modern Western media that is not seen as having branched off from media fandom. The term is sometimes also applied to any fandom outside media fandom, even those connected to other large fannish communities with a long history, such as anime fandom. Members of "feral" fandoms often find the term overly subjective and insulting, seeing the "media fans" as the clueless outsiders.[2] (See Bandom/Terminology_Debate for an example of this type of culture clash.) These days most new fandoms develop their own culture, practices and vocabulary independent of media fandom.

Controversy

Feral means "reverted to wild." Applied to humans, the term refers to children "raised by wolves" or in an isolated environment without interaction with other humans. Most true feral children exhibit atypical speech, personal habits described as strange, and severely impaired social functioning. Some fans object to being called feral, not the least of which was the "us vs. them" attitude that it helps foster.

And what is a feral vidder? From what I can tell by the people who use the term, it's anybody who was not mentored into vidding by *them*, or someone *they* consider part of their community. Someone who has not adopted *their* rules. Someone who comes from no community, someone who has no community. Because the people who bandy this term about believe that their community is the only community. [3]

From the view of existing media fandom at the time the term was invented, the metaphor was an accurate representation of the process of how people found media fandom. Feral fans didn't come in through the existing gatekeeper system ("fellow human stimulus"), and they did create their own terms ("atypical speech", such as applying the term slash to het pairings). They didn't necessarily know or care about the values of the current media fandom culture, such as any activity involving zines -- the original basis of media fandoms' social structure.

Many fans also use the term to refer to their own past selves, or how they felt they were before they found their home or tribe in media fandom. A lot of personal stories talk about the sense of community and welcome they receive once they start interacting with other fans. So for some, when they say they used to be a 'feral fan', it meant 'I felt isolated and alone'.

Other fans have commented on alternative linguistic usage of feral, and the classist and racist overtones of its etymology.[4]

Unspoken Assumptions

In addition to the potentially offensive connotations of the term itself, the concept of a feral fan can also be offensive because of the unspoken assumptions that underlie it: Namely that there is a single, default, mainstream "fandom" community (traditional Media Fandom) and that joining it is a normal part of any fan's introduction to fandom. In addition to many insular fandoms with an unusual fandom-specific culture, there are also entire large sectors of "fandom" (anime fandom, for example) that have their own distinct history of gatekeepers and defaults. Fans from these communities may join more traditional media fandoms after years of being "in fandom", often leading them to be especially offended at terminology like 'feral'.

Examples

The classic feral fandom is Xena: Warrior Princess; it independently reinvented many fannish traditions in isolation from other fandoms. (See the "Parallel Evolution" section of that fandom's page for more information.)

The X-Files was a very large fandom at its peak (being a mainstream crossover hit), so large that the number of newbies overwhelmed the existing members with fannish experience. So although in some ways XF was a classic media fandom -- fanfiction, extensive analysis, picspams (before those had a name) -- in other ways its self-concept was strongly isolated. XF is noted for developing a complex system of category-ratings in its fanfic, an artifact unknown in most other media fandoms. A great many mediafen got their start in XF; it is also fair to say that a great many X-Philes have been fans of that show and that show only, and have shunned the multifandom experience.

Harry Potter had a lot of early activity on fanfiction.net, and as such, had a more peripheral connection with the main thread of media fandom, which at the time was centered on mailing lists. As a threshold fandom, Harry Potter brought in a lot of new fans, and those fans tended to be younger and centered (at least initially) on Fanfiction.net; some fans participated in both media fandom mailing list communities and communities based around activity on ff.net.

HP is another feral fandom, which got way too many new fans for older fans to establish social norms, and it had/has another atypical fannish population, although in this case it trended much younger than other media fandoms (but older than anime fandoms), and it had and continues to have a lot of members who aren't aware that "fandom" isn't synonymous with "Harry Potter fandom" for everybody. [5]

The fandom became a hybrid of sorts, picking up terms and concepts from media fandom, but also developing their own terms, their own practices, and their own spins on how fandom worked. The Cassandra Claire plagiarism scandal is an example of the type of complex situation that the hybrid fandom experienced, with various factions and groups clashing over terms and ideas, and what the appropriate reaction to the situation should be.

Twilight has been described as a feral fandom, where some of the mores and practices -- such as those around deleting fanworks and sharing copies thereof -- developed independently (and in different directions from) previous, interconnected media fandoms.

Alternatives to "Feral"

Some fans have tried to come up with alternate terminology to describe the concepts of feral fans and fandoms that lacks the negative implications of the word 'feral' itself. However, there are enough offensive assumptions embodied in the term that nothing has stuck. Alternate schema for describing the relationships between types of fandoms have also been proposed. One such idea blends the wave theory of slash with the idea of feral and threshold fandoms to produce a wave theory of fandom:

A first-generation fan would be someone who writes drawer-fanfic, or finally goes on line in search of.. something, or who attends a first con/buys a first dojinshi - someone moving into/towards an organized structure of fandom for the first time. A first-generation fandom would be mostly comprised of these newcomers, and it would be occupied with the excitement of bringing people together and creating things (cons! archives!). A second-generation fan would be someone who has a few years of experience in a fandom and who has ventured outside of their neighborhood... but who generally choose friends closeby or from their first-generation area; a second-generation fandom would have more migratory fans, because now they know how the buses run, it's pretty easy to get from White Collar to H50 [Hawaii Five-O]. And third-generation fans have an even broader overview of fandom and how little anyone can know of all of it, but they tend to have friends from all walks of fandom, and not much smugness about how advanced they are; I have no idea what a third-generation fandom looks like, my metaphor just broke down.[6]

References

  1. Enterprising Women by Camille Bacon-Smith, 1992, pg 81 [Free Preview]
  2. One anon on fail_fandomanon remarked that the term was "just a snotty, egocentric way of saying one small group of fans is the true fandom, and the rest of us were supposed to be orbiting around them." 2 August 2013 thread. (Accessed 4 August 2013.)
  3. Laura Shapiro. Comment in "I Invented Pants". 22 September 2006 (accessed 2 November 2008).
  4. Stultiloquentia. Cleaning up after myself. 22 September 2009 (accessed 30 September 2009).
  5. Coffeeandink. Fandom Genealogy 10 August 2006 (accessed 2 November 2008).
  6. From a Fail. Fandom. Anon. thread Alternative to "Feral Fandom". Posted March 27, 2012. (Accessed April 9, 2012.)
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